A metasearch engine, otherwise known as an aggregator, is a search engine that sends queries to several search engines and either aggregates the results into one master list or categorizes the results by the search engines they come from. There are dozens of metasearch engines across the Internet, and Dogpile is one prominent example.
In essence, a metasearch engine allows a user to enter a single query and field results from several sources. The idea is that this breadth of information allows users to get the best answers as quickly as possible.
Believe it or not, they’ve been around for a long time.
In the early 1990s, Daniel Dreilinger of Colorado State University unveiled a project called SearchSavvy—the OG metasearch engine, which aggregated the results of 20 different search engines and directories. Although novel, SearchSavvy was quite simply and not terribly reliable.
Then, in 1995, came MetaCrawler: a narrower, more accurate improvement upon SearchSavvy launched by a student and a professor at the University of Washington. It wasn’t perfect, of course, and with the ensuing years came a slew of other metasearch engines.
Today, as we said, users have their choice of many metasearch engines. So, what are these users looking for?
The fundamental benefit of using a metasearch engine is rather obvious: you get much more information than you would using a standard search engine.
Anyone who uses the Internet to learn wants the broadest, most complete picture possible. But, it’s far too time-consuming and confusing to compare the results of different search engines.
With each different search engine comes a different index, a different crawler, a different algorithm, and so on. If you conduct a search with a single search engine, there’s a chance that you’re missing out on key information simply because that particular search engine doesn’t rank it prominently enough for you to notice. Metasearch engines eliminate this risk.
Some metasearch engines—IxQuick and Vivismo, for example—even have their own post-processing algorithms by which they rank the aggregated results according to relevance and source authority.
Although they’ve been around for over two decades, metasearch engines are still pretty simple in comparison to giants like Google and Bing. They do not interpret query syntax as fully or as accurately as standard search engines, and users are forced to keep their queries relatively basic.
Further, despite the advantage of drawing from a larger pool of information, metasearch engines do not produce as many results as do standard search engines, a fault which may undermine the main advantage of use. Plus, sponsored results are still favored and featured most prominently.
Finally, as you can imagine, metasearch engines sometimes pull identical sites and pages into their aggregated results. After all, if you enter the same query into both Google and Bing, the results won’t be totally different. Again, this shortcoming works against the appeal of more information per query.